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Democrats wrestle with thorny issues of race at town hall

By Ann Marie Awad
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Democrats wrestle with thorny issues of race at town hall
Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton smiles before speaking to supporters at a 'Get Out the Vote' organizing event t the Parkway Ballroom in Chicago on February 17, 2016. Clinton's appearance in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, a historic African American community, is part of a major effort of her campaign to reach out to black voters. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo

CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared at a town hall meeting in South Carolina hosted by CNN, where they spent much of the time discussing race.

The event comes five days before the South Carolina Democratic primary, and shortly after Clinton beat Sanders in the Nevada Democratic caucuses. RealClear Politics shows Clinton ahead of Sanders by 24 points in the Palmetto State.

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Tuesday night's event was sponsored by CNN and hosted by New Day host Chris Cuomo, and took place just as Nevada Republicans caucused to choose their nominee.

Race relations

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Several questions were asked about racism and race relations in the United States.

Sanders responded to the ongoing "birther movement" that has raised questions about the citizenship of President Obama, as well as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. He said the movement was partially to blame for Senate GOP efforts to block a nominee to the Supreme Court.

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"What you are seeing today in this Supreme Court situation is nothing more than the continuous and unprecedented obstructionism that President Obama has gone through. And this is on top of this 'birther' issue, which we heard from Donald Trump and others, a racist effort to try to delegitimize the President of the United States," he said. "Guess what, nobody has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it's the color of my skin?"

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At another point, however, Sanders stopped short of calling Trump racist.

"I'm not a psychoanalyst," he said. "Boy, would a psychoanalyst have an interesting time with Donald Trump."

Sanders also responded to criticism of his plan for free college tuition, specifically about how it would impact historically black universities and colleges, half of which are private schools. The concern was initially raised by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., but has recently been backed by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., both Clinton supporters.

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"We should make sure that public colleges and universities are tuition free, but in addition to that, we must sustain and strengthen the historically black colleges and universities, who do a phenomenal job today educating a significant number of young African-Americans," he told an audience member. "You have my word we will not only sustain, we will increase funding."

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A young black woman asked Clinton about race relations. The woman said she had begun to wear her hair natural and felt people treated her differently because of it. Clinton responded by asking black mothers who had lost children to gun violence to stand up, calling them "the mothers of the movement."

"I think it's important for people, particularly for white people, to be honest about those [issues]," she said. "Our experiences may not equip us to understand what our African-American citizens go through every day."

Clinton eventually came around to answering the question about hairstyles. Clinton told the woman she had a "right to wear your hair any way you want to, that is your right. As someone who has had a lot of different hairstyles, I speak with some experience."

Guantanamo Bay

Both candidates supported President Obama's push to close the detention facility, which was announced earlier Tuesday.

Sanders said as long as the facility remained open "we look like hypocrites and fools to the entire world."

Clinton said she supported the closure of Guantanamo while she was in the Senate, and later during her time as Secretary of State.

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However, both candidates had voted to block the closure by various means.

Speech transcripts

The issue of Clinton's paid speeches to financial institutions was once again brought up. Clinton had previously said she would release the transcripts of those speeches when other candidates did the same.

She remained firm when asked again, saying she would release nothing until every candidate -- including Republican candidates -- released transcripts of their paid speeches to various groups.

Earlier in the evening, Sanders was asked if he would release transcripts of paid speeches he's given. He said he's hardly given any. Last year, The New York Times reported Sanders netted less than $2,000 in speaking fees.

"I'm very happy to release all of my paid speeches to Wall Street," Sanders told Cuomo, before opening his hands. "There it is Chris! There ain't none. I don't do that."

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